In mid-May, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution authorizing remote voting by proxy. Per the resolution, one congressperson may vote on behalf of up to ten others. In theory, as few as 40 of the House’s 435 members could show up in Washington for the House to do business.
But Article I, Section 5 of the US Constitution says otherwise: “[A] Majority of each [house of Congress] shall constitute a Quorum to do Business.” That means 218 members must be present for the House to do anything.
As May draws to a close and the House Democratic majority prepares to race its shiny new unconstitutional proxy muscle car around the track, House Republicans are suing.
Their case seems air tight, but that doesn’t mean it will get anywhere. Federal courts, write Melanie Zanona, Heather Caygle, and Sarah Ferris at Politico, “are notoriously reluctant to wade into internal House machinations. …. often citing the Constitution’s language that declares that ‘[e]ach House may determine the rules of its proceedings.'” An obviously inapplicable excuse, true, but an available one.
There are other ways of putting the kibosh on the proxy scheme.
The Senate could simply refuse to take up any legislation passed by the House without a quorum.
Likewise, President Trump could refuse to sign such legislation even if the Senate also passed it.
Better yet, the Senate and/or the president could decline to even acknowledge such legislation as having been passed by the House at all.
How many legs does a dog have if we call its tail a leg? Four — calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one. Ditto bills supposedly passed by a House with no quorum present and therefore with no authority to pass anything at all.
Don’t count on any of those outcomes any more than on the courts, though. Expecting any branch of government to start obeying the Constitution is, as Samuel Johnson called the second marriage of a man unhappy in his first, “the triumph of hope over experience.”
As is depending on the Constitution itself. As 19th century American anarchist Lysander Spooner wrote of it, “this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it.”
Neither Congress, nor the courts, nor the presidency, nor the Constitution will secure our rights for us. If we want them, we’re going to have to seize them for ourselves.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.